Town leaders seem open to loosening some of Cary’s building design rules, but they recently agreed that others need to be strengthened.
Officials have been reviewing the town’s design standards for commercial and multi-family residential buildings since last fall when council members said they didn’t like how some rule-abiding projects turned out.
For example, current rules require masonry materials to make up at least 75 percent of commercial building facades and at least 35 percent of apartment and townhouse facades.
However, developers who follow the letter of the law sometimes have transitioned away from masonry material at an awkward place, such as at the middle of a window, rather than above it or below it.
Cary Town Council members agreed during a work session Jan. 27 that they want to require masonry material to be applied at “logical and visually appealing breaks in the building,” a staff report reads.
Town staff showed council members a photo of The Bradford, a new mixed-use apartment/retail complex that opened in the past year. In the photo, masonry materials stopped in the middle of a window.
“Once I saw it, I was a bit surprised,” Councilwoman Lori Bush said. “It’s not pleasing to the eye. Having a set masonry (percentage) is not supposed to stop good design.”
Cary developed the rules in 2005 with help from renowned architectural consultants. The rules govern everything from building materials to a structure’s architectural “rhythm,” and have helped Cary become known for producing subdued, earth-toned buildings.
Cary leaders are largely happy with the rules but want to tweak them where it will help produce a better product. Council members said they paid close attention to Charlotte’s rules during the town’s retreat there Jan. 29 to 31.
The work session was the latest in a series of meetings that Cary expects to hold before voting on proposed changes later this year. The recommendation to require “logical” breaks in masonry material came from residents during a public input session in October.
Residents want to prevent developers from designing “cookie cutter” buildings, said Christian Sottile, dean of the School of Building Arts at Savannah College of Art and Design. Sottile helped author Cary’s rules in 2005 and worked with residents at October’s public input session.
“The ordinance is not a cookbook. It’s not a recipe. You need to have a good designer,” Sottile said.
Council members said they also want to limit the use of dark glass windows on commercial buildings. Town rules require windows to account for 50 percent of the front facade on ground-level retail buildings, and developers currently are allowed to use opaque glass.
“I would like (windows) to be transparent and translucent,” Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson said.
Council members said they would consider other suggestions but didn’t come to a consensus.
For example, council members said they’re open to looser “transparency” rules, which govern windows, for industrial commercial warehouses.
They may allow older buildings, particularly around downtown, to be renovated with non-masonry materials as long as an architectural engineer finds that masonry materials would damage the property or prove overly expensive.
The council asked town staff to research the potential effects of such a change.
The council may also allow commercial buildings to use a wider variety of primary and accent colors, but want to first come up with a way of defining “primary” and “accent.”
“I don’t mind having spots of vibrant color, so long as it’s not swaths of it,” Robinson said.
Council members also rejected a suggestion to allow developers to build cast concrete facades that mimic brick or stone. The technology is new so the longevity of detailed cast concrete isn’t clear, Sottile said.
Some people like detailed cast concrete because it looks better than a blank cast wall, but others think it looks cheap, he said.
“The appearance of these things look good. The concern is how they’re going to wear over time,” Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said.